JOHANNESBURG – Bafana Bafana and coach Stuart Baxter might not want to hear this, especially after their animated celebrations in Sfax, but their qualification to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) isn’t much of a cause for celebration.
Yes, qualifying for a major tournament is a big deal, especially by a team that’s notorious with disappointing at the last hurdle of qualifiers, but this Afcon is something of a free-for-all with 24 nations set to take part in the continental showpiece in Egypt.
That’s almost half of the 51 countries who took part in the qualifiers. Burundi, Madagascar and Mauritania will be making their debut in the finals while Tanzania are going there for the first time since 1980. These countries definitely benefited from the expansion and it’s them who should be jumping up and down because for too long the Afcon was an unrealistic target for them.
But thanks to the expansion, they can now call themselves one of the best countries in the continent.
For Bafana, 1996 winners and runners up in 1998, qualification alone isn’t enough. They must hold their own against the best in the continent. These qualifiers showed that they can do that, stunning Nigeria in Uyo last June. But they once again slipped into the muddy waters of uncertainty by complicating what should have been an easy qualification campaign.